The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, November 09, 2009

The roots of kindness.

World Kindness Day is on 13th November 2009. So, it is apt that attention should, once more, focus on the Singapore Kindness Movement. The big question to be asked, first, of course is: is Singapore an essentially unkind society?

The short answer, unfortunately, is yes – and I shall tell you why. Singapore is a country built on competition. It is a nation that has raised competition to be the apex of all human endeavour. Were there Ten Singaporean Commandments, the first would be: Thou Shalt Win (At All Costs). Here, in Singapore, the only thing that matters, really, is that one should “win”, no matter what it takes to do so. In a culture where the only success is to be “No.1”, it seems necessary, to the people, to step on everyone else to get there. People brought up to believe that “winning is all”, become people who will do anything to win. This creates a fundamentally unpleasant attitude towards other people. You see, in such a “winner takes all” culture, other people are not seen as one’s fellow citizens, of a shared nation, but as one’s COMPETITORS. It is a small step from the word “competitor” to the word “enemy”. Thus, true Singaporeans don’t love their fellow man, they compete with them; fight with them; trample on them. They come to be people who only think of one person: themselves – no-one else is considered, or even considered worthy of being considered. No-one else matters, but “me”.

Singapore is a nation of people each of whom has the same thought running through their heads: “me, me, me”. There is no room for thought of anyone else. The consequences are clear. Singaporeans won’t do even the most basic of kindnesses for each other. They slam doors in each other’s faces, instead of holding them open. They get on trains, or into lifts, before others have got off. They steal each other’s taxis, getting into cabs others have called. They jump queues and get angry if challenged (which rarely happens). If offered a seat, on a bus, or a train, they will almost always fail to say “thank you”, but will sit in silence. Unbelievably, they even attack their fellow Singaporeans online, for doing well, in any endeavour. The list of poor behaviours could go on forever – but there is no need, for all the behaviours share one thing in common: a lack of thought for anyone else. Here, no-one considers the feelings of others.

Now, how are we to change this? How are we to make a kinder society? The Singapore Kindness Movement is a start. At least, it might prompt people to reflect on the issues and begin a process of personal change. However, I think it is too late to expect adults to change their ways, significantly. If Singapore is to become noted for the kindness of its people (which would, after all, be a lovely thing, wouldn’t it?), the efforts must begin in early childhood. Singapore’s children need to be taught to think of their effect on others; they need to learn to consider the feelings of others, just as much as they do their own. Parents can help with this, but schools should take on much of the burden. The instilling of kindness, as a desired attitude, could be woven into every lesson, in every school, in the land. It should begin with the teachers…perhaps they can be kind to their students. Every time they do so, they are teaching the children about kindness.

Perhaps, too, if Singaporeans could learn to compete less, with each other, and appreciate more, each other’s achievements, then a greater consideration for each other, might grow in their hearts. If Singaporeans can accept that other Singaporeans can win, too, and that that is something to feel pride in, rather than resentment of, perhaps the essential attitude of Singaporeans towards each other, might be changed for the better.

Kindness is a very important quality of a people. A kind person makes the lives of every person they ever meet, better. Of course, the opposite applies, too: an unkind person, makes the lives of everyone they meet worse. So, the Singapore Kindness Movement does not represent a trivial idea. It represents something fundamental to the quality of life, for everyone living in Singapore. If Singaporeans are, on the whole, unkind to each other, then it makes Singapore an unpleasant place to live in. Thus, it is important, for every Singaporean to begin to think in terms of how they can be kind to others. At each and every interaction, with other people, thought should be given to how they might show kindness, in that moment. Were all to do this, Singapore would quickly become one of the world’s most pleasant places to live in.

Of course, it takes two people to be kind: not just one. By this I mean, whenever anyone shows a kindness to another, that other should say: "Thank you", for the kindness shown. Should they not thank their benefactor, they would be greeting a kindness, with rudeness...which is just another variety of unkindness. So there are two parts to this: being kind to others - and being polite to those who are kind to us.

Be kind!

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.

IMDB is the Internet Movie Database for film and tv professionals. If you would like to look at my IMDb listing for which another fifteen credits are to be uploaded, (which will probably take several months before they are accepted) please go to: As I write, the listing is new and brief - however, by the time you read this it might have a dozen or a score of please do take a look. My son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, also has an IMDb listing. His is found at: My wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley, has a listing as well. Hers is found at:

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:32 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your last para. Being kind is also about appreciating the kindness offered to you by others.

But I supposed Singaporeans are so used to being unkind, they don't know how to react when they're treated kindly.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right. Singaporeans ARE unused to interpersonal kindness. Now, isn't that sad?

It will take time. The conversion from a typically unkind society, to a typically kind one, would take, at the very least, years...perhaps even decades...but each of us has the power to begin it, now: just by being kind and being polite to those who are kind to us. This kind of behaviour would soon begin to "snowball" once begun and it may even be possible to make the conversion in much shorter a timeframe than that proposed.

Once people begin to see how much nicer kindness FEELS, than unkindness, it won't be long before people start to be kind to each other.

I, for one, would love to see a Singapore built on such kindness.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Demel said...

Sometimes, I think Singaporeans should step outside of Singapore and see the outside world - and take a look at the habits and mannerisms people have overseas.

I recall being with a bunch of classmates on a trip overseas when we were on a travellator in the airport in America, when all of a sudden someone scolded from behind "Don't any of you know the rules?" because we were standing on both the left and the right side. Such events really opened me up to look around and man, everyone was keeping to the left. It's one of those things you don't see much in Singapore.

The kiasu attitude you talk about certainly is an important factor in this, but I think another important factor to add to the ungraciousness seen around would be in a rather myopic society.

And it's rather sad because sometimes people are aware of such things but don't make a conscious effort to actually do it - a little 'please' may very well be enough to get an old lady a seat on a train, but there's still a problem in her asking in the first place.

Personally, though. I think the Singapore Kindness Movement is going to fail badly. There's like some level of desensitization to campaigns and movements going on here. Hopefully that's not true for the children, as you say.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Demel, for your example.

Yes, it is so. In other countries, people will remind those who fail to be polite, behave well, etc, of how they SHOULD be behaving. Thus, the education of the young, or those who don't know, but should, proceeds, every day they interact with the society. The WHOLE society works towards the goal of a better society...without probably realizing that that is what they are doing.

I think civilized that is really civilized...has a kind of social capital that is missing in a country like Singapore. Here, kindness, consideration for others, politness, good manners and just general NICENESS are in short supply. In their place, you have what? Money, ambition, greed, power, status...ugly things to have replaced civility for.

I agree that were people to travel more and see other developed nations at work, they might bring home lessons for how their own society could be, if the efforts were made.

I think one problem here is that people don't see the importance of public kindness...they don't understand how much better to live in their society would be, were they to all make the effort to make it so.

It may take a whole generation to make the change (since the children are most open to learning), but it is certainly a change worth making.

Thanks, as ever, for your thoughts, Demel.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

get real. sg is an elitist society that promotes and loves only those who possess monetary value to the country or their masters.

such people can never develop *genuine* social graces and kindness. and i distinguish the genuine article from a fake one because social behavior exhibited here are mostly conditioned by our business environment - we mimic acceptable social behavior out of survivor.

bottom line is, we do not respect each other. we are all conditioned to pay our respect to those whom the authorities value or approve - high net worth individual or high society people.

and what we don't respect we don't give a damn - it's as simple as that and that accounts for poor services here.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The society you portray re. only respect for the rich...sounds absolutely hollow. If that is really the way people think around awful.

Thanks for your insight.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous dieaready said...

I think it is due to the way us singaporeans have been brought up from young. It also has to do with many singaporean families having one or two kids on average.

From young, when we are brought up, we are always compared to our siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors, etc, about how their behavior/results/attitude/etc are much better than us, and so on. This is the very first step towards us becoming focused on ourselves, and how we must do better than them, and we learn to put others down when we respond to the comparison with others with bad things about them, and how we are better than them in that aspect.

The second step, is the attitude we are taught in regards to the things we have as we grow up. I notice in Australia, the young kids tend to have toys that can be shared with others while playing, like rugby/soccer balls, where to have fun with them, you need to play with others and share it with others. Meanwhile, kids in Singapore have toys like PSPs, computer games, xbox, etc, which are not easily shared around, and does not encourage sharing among each other. This would result in selfishness, as for me to have fun with it, it means you can't have fun with it. Also, this instills the want to have the latest stuff to keep up with our friends so that we can have fun, or even more fun than our friends. Besides, having the latest stuff means that you can have the most fun, and so would make you be seen as popular, which again focuses on ourselves, and not on others. This is compounded especially by parents who just buy whatever their child wants, thus reinforcing the idea that the world revolves around him.

In the case of small families, the idea of sharing is almost nonexistent. For a single child family, this is very obvious, but even for families with two children, the parents would often buy two of the same toy, so that they would not fight over whose toy it is, which reinforces the concept of 'mine' and 'yours', rather than 'ours'.

All these focusing on ourselves from young leads us to be disinterested in how others feel, and making us calculative to see what we can get out of everything, rather than what we can do to improve each others lives.

This is much like the prisoner's dilemma, where the logic is to do to the other party did to you previously. If initially, both parties work together, they can both get off free, but if even one party accuses the other, it leads to a cycle of pulling each other down just to stay ahead of the other, rather than working together and getting way ahead.

We need to start correct from young. If not, don't expect anything to change any time soon, even through this 'Singapore Kindness Movement'. Once its ingrained into our mentality that only ourselves matter, there is little hope of breaking out of that.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dieaready, thanks for your insights into the causes of Singaporean selfishness...

That it is going to be difficult to change the situation, is no reason not to try. However, I agree that it needs to begin in childhood.

Efforts today, will change Singapore for the better in twenty years: it is worth trying.

2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humans are the most foolish creation of God, as it is constantly devoured by greed and hypnotized by money.

Yes I agree with Anonymous that

"bottom line is, we do not respect each other. we are all conditioned to pay our respect to those whom the authorities value or approve - high net worth individual or high society people."

and I believe that this does not occur only in Singapore. That's where 'fans' came about too. They are just hypocrites who would shine their shoes for benefits, probably money.

I certainly love your entry of the 'kiasu' and some of the daily scenes in Singapore. As a kid I experience those scenes everyday going to school, so I also noticed that if a passenger is traveling alone, there are basicly two types of expression: blur and cold, they wouldn't bother to greet or talk to some of the passengers they often see. Oh, on second thought, they wouldn't even notice.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I like your description of commuting Singaporeans as "blur and cold" are right. Here, it seems difficult for anyone to acknowledge their fellow humans. How essentially unfriendly.

Best wishes.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Casey said...

I thought Americans had a problem with focusing too much on money and power. I had only recently realized this greed existed elsewhere, and to such an extreme.

How sad.

It would bother me extremely much to have to live there. I applaud your efforts to do so and not giving up hope.

I do agree in your beliefs, it all starts with selecting different values and imparting them on the children.

I have three girls and would be appalled if I had to buy 3 of everything to avoid fights. You get what you get is the norm in my house, and you play cooperatively or it gets taken away and no one plays with it.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is good that you encourage cooperation in your family. Competition destroys is highly corrosive and should be avoided.

Best wishes on raising your kids.

11:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape